Tennis: Practice pays dividends for Rusedski

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Greg Rusedski, the No 1 seed, joined Tim Henman in the second round of the $1m Qatar Mobil Open with a straight-sets victory over Juan Albert Viloca, of Spain, on a cold, blustery night in the Gulf. John Roberts reports from Doha.

The conditions were in keeping with a third-round FA Cup replay in England rather than a tennis tournament in the Persian Gulf, but the chilly north-easterly did not blow Greg Rusedski off course. The No 1 seed successfully negotiated his first-round match against the Spaniard Juan Albert Viloca, 6-4, 6-4.

One of the coldest days in these parts for 20 years left Rusedski's coach, Tony Pickard, wondering if their journey had been really necessary. "We came here for warm weather and the sunshine," he said. "If we wanted weather like this we could have stayed at home."

Pickard's long, successful association with Sweden's Stefan Edberg gave him a keen insight into the ways a big server should cope with the elements, but even Pickard was concerned about the challenge facing Rusedski last night. "In all my years in tennis, I can't remember conditions that tricky in terms of the wind," Pickard said. "The flags were flying one way, but on the court it was blowing in the opposite direction. It was blowing all over the place."

When they practised in the afternoon, Pickard reminded Rusedski that the most important consideration was to concentrate on putting the ball in play. Elementary, perhaps, but, as Pickard says, "when conditions are good you can do what you like with your serve, but in a wind like that you can suffer by trying to be a hero. The conditions were even worse tonight, but Greg stuck to his task well, except for one game."

That was after Rusedski had broken Viloca at the start of the second set, only to invite him back into the match. A netted backhand volley encouraged the Spaniard to attack, and he created two break points with a forehand down the line, converting the second with a topspin return.

Rusedski conceded only two points in his concluding four service games, both when serving for the match after an hour. In the previous game, the Briton made the decisive break, a confident return luring Viloca into netting a forehand.

Having opened the year on a winning note, Rusedski made light of the conditions. "It was the same for both of us," he said. "I played my own game, aggressive serve and volley. If he passed me a hundred times he gets to win, but fortunately he didn't do that. Last year, I didn't have my first win till nearly February, so I'm pleased with the way things went."

Rusedski was also happy to pronounce himself injury free, having recovered from the hamstring strain which caused him to retire during the ATP Tour Championship in Hannover in November and to miss the invitation doubles event at the Royal Albert Hall last month.

He frequently trained twice a day over Christmas, relaxing at a castle in Kent he booked with his girlfriend, Lucy Connor, and her family. "No," he smiled in answer to a reporter, "I was not the king of the castle."

None the less, the Canadian-born left-hander has certainly risen to join the aristocracy on the ATP Tour. A year ago, he was ranked No 48 in the world, just another hopeful contender for high honours. Today, he is ranked No 6, having been as high as No 4 after reaching the United States Open final last September.

Rusedski's second-round match is against Karim Alami, a wild card from Morocco, ranked No 55 in the world, who dispatched an ill-prepared Pete Sampras in the first round here in 1994. Rusedski is familiar with Alami's game, and so he should be. In 1991, they won the Wimbledon junior doubles title together.

"We got on well as juniors and just decided to go for it," Rusedski recounted. "It was a tough final [against Andrei Medvedev and John De Jager]. We came back after being down 6-1 and a break."

Sergi Bruguera, seeded to meet Rusedski in Sunday's final, was defeated in the first round by a Spanish compatriot, Carlos Costa, 6-4, 6-2. Goran Ivanisevic, the No 4 seed, began his progress towards a projected quarter- final against Rusedski with a perfectly behaved win against Hicham Arazi, of Morroco, 6-2, 6-3.